April 22, 2020 / 9:31 AM / a month ago

On Earth Day, calls grow to treat shock of coronavirus with 'green recovery'

LONDON (Reuters) - As the world marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, calls were growing for governments to treat the shock of the coronavirus with “green recovery” packages to spur a shift to a low-carbon future.

A runner is seen in Burgess Park, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in London, Britain, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Although many countries remain on a pandemic emergency footing, some investors, politicians and companies see the longer-term economic response as a chance to address the more profound risks posed by climate change.

“There’s a lot of pressure for those fiscal stimulus packages, when they come, to be low-carbon, climate-smart,” Peter Betts, a former lead climate negotiator for Britain and the European Union, told Reuters Television.

“A risk, clearly, is that for some governments around the world there will be a huge premium on getting the economy moving, getting people back into jobs,” said Betts, now an associate fellow at the Chatham House think-tank in London.

With a major U.N. climate summit initially scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November postponed to next year because of the virus, Betts said the slot could be used instead to convene finance ministers to coordinate green recovery plans.

“With something like climate change we know that it’s coming and know that there are ways we can prepare for it that would be relatively low cost,” he said.

“And what we’re seeing with this pandemic is that if you wait until the crisis hits, the costs are much greater.”

So far, the United States, China, Japan, India and European and other governments have focused on staunching the damage to industry, preserving jobs or trying to avoid corporate failures.

Nevertheless, ministers from Germany, France and other EU members and some other governments have begun to signal their support for aligning subsequent interventions with climate goals, a theme taken up by campaign groups around the world.

On Wednesday, hundreds of climate activists, scientists, singers, and actors begin a three-day EarthDayLive2020 https://www.earthdaylive2020.org livestream, which will feature webinars on what a fair and climate-friendly recovery could look like.

Although no major economies have yet embraced anything like the rapid decarbonisation that scientists say is needed to stabilise the Earth’s climate, environmental considerations have surfaced in some preliminary stimulus and bailout discussions.

On Tuesday, the European Union’s chief climate official, Frans Timmermans, said green conditions could be tied to any car scrappage schemes set up by the bloc to revive vehicle demand.

Last week, Austrian environment minister Leonore Gewessler said state aid for Austrian Airlines should be conditional on climate measures such as reducing short-haul flights. 

Writing by Matthew Green; Editing by Giles Elgood

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